With all players set to report to the New York Mets Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie by next week, many non-roster invitees will finally get their chance to earn a spot on the major league roster. All told there are 30 NRIs coming to Mets camp, among them are several veteran pitchers looking to claw their way back into the show. With the Mets still in need of extra pitching depth, some of these guys might just get their wish.
While most of the veteran pitchers are newcomers to the Mets, there are a couple who have already seen significant time with the team. Chief among them is lefty reliever Jerry Blevins.
It wasn’t too long ago that Mets fans chanted “Jerry! Jerry!” in Citi Field. From 2015-18, he was arguably the team’s best lefty out of the bullpen, compiling a 3.38 ERA, 118 ERA+ and 3.61 FIP in 219 appearances. A rocky 2018 (4.85 ERA) led to the two parties going their separate ways, with Blevins ultimately ending up with the Atlanta Braves. After putting up a 3.90 ERA with the Braves in 2019, Blevins sat out the 2020 campaign. Now 37-years-old, he returns to a Mets squad in need of a quality lefty reliever. As a result, Blevins is perhaps the most likely out of all the NRIs to make the opening day roster.
Another familiar face, the recently DFA’d Corey Oswalt is back after clearing waivers and being outrighted to the Mets’ minor league system. Things haven’t gone well for Oswalt in his short career. In 13 starts since his debut in 2018, he owns a 4.68 ERA and 63 ERA+. That said, despite his struggles, the Mets could always use an extra starter. However, with the team spending all Winter compiling pitchers for just that reason, Oswalt is near the bottom of the depth chart. Expect him to spend most, if not all of the season in AAA Syracuse.
Speaking of starting pitching depth, Jerad Eickhoff is one of those recent acquisitions. In five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, Eickhoff compiled a mixed resume. He was great from 2015-16, having a 3.44 ERA,120 ERA+ and 1.136 WHIP in 41 starts. Sadly, things quickly fell apart after that. Eickhoff struggled heavily in his next three seasons. This was mostly due to a series of minor injuries that derailed his career, culminating in the Phillies letting him go in 2019 and missing the entire 2020 season. Like Oswalt, Eickhoff is pretty low on the depth chart. Should injuries ravage the team, however, he might just find himself back in the majors.
Mike Montgomery is the other veteran starter, though, he has technically pitched most of his career as a reliever. Similar to Eickhoff, Montgomery was unable to maintain the momentum after a strong first couple of seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs. His 3.45 ERA and 120 ERA+ from 2015-17 gave way to a mediocre 4.41 ERA and 99 ERA+ from 2018-2020. Luckily, these recent numbers aren’t too bad. When combined with his versatility and the fact that he’s a lefty, Montgomery has a decent shot at playing in the majors this year.
Plus, it’s hard to keep a guy down who’s crowning achievement is ending the Cubs’ 108-year title drought with his 10th-inning save in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series.
The Mets are inviting three veteran relievers to camp. Of them, the least likely to break into the majors is Trevor Hildenberger. While he enjoyed an impressive debut in 2017 with the Minnesota Twins (3.21 ERA, 139 ERA+), he hasn’t done much since. With a disastrous 6.35 ERA from 2018-19, he was promptly let go and didn’t see any action in 2020. Barring a major turnaround in AAA, don’t expect to see Hilderberger in Citi Field anytime soon.
Luckily, the other two relievers both show a lot of promise. First is former Atlanta Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino. After a rough debut, Vizcaino came into his own as one of the Braves’ best relievers. In 112 appearances from 2015-19, he owns a 2.77 ERA, 151 ERA+ and an excellent 10.3 K/9. Unfortunately, his 2020 campaign was cut short by season-ending shoulder surgery. It’s unknown how much speed the hard-throwing righty has lost off his deadly, 97 mph fastball-sinker combo. If the 30-year-old proves he still has the arm strength and does well in Spring, his odds of making the opening day roster increase exponentially.
Lastly is Tommy Hunter. The 13-year journeyman has been all over, spending time with six different teams, most recently with the Phillies from 2018-20. Since being converted into a reliever in 2013, Hunter’s numbers have been consistently above average. In just under 400 innings, he owns a 3.24 ERA, 129 ERA+ and 1.109 WHIP. While he may not be that hard a thrower, Hunter’s pinpoint accuracy and elite spin rate on his fastball and breaking pitches have allowed him to remain solid even as he enters his age 34 season. Like Vizcaino, Hunter’s odds of making the Mets’ major league roster are looking very good.
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